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Academic Study Skills

This guide can assist you to increase your understanding of course material, improve your marks, and make learning a little less stressful. Here you will find strategies for time management, reading and note-taking, study skills, and test-taking.

How Can I Manage my Time Better?

How Can I Manage my Time Better?

By: Chelsey Finney

We’ve all been there. You look at the calendar and assure yourself that there is still 1-2 weeks left before your assignment is due. There is still plenty of time to both start and finish it. Before you know it, several days go by with a blink of an eye. You had to work, meet friends, run errands between classes and shifts, cook meals and do laundry, etc. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day – 8 to 10 of which are saved for a good night’s rest. Now, you only have 3-4 days to plan, research for, and write the entire assignment. The pressure to do well on each stage of the project sets in. You ask yourself: how did I get into this mess?

Mindset for time management

For many students, it can be hard to achieve their goals for different reasons, including….

  • Timeliness
  • No being able to evaluate the assignment properly
  • Lack of prioritizing
  • Need for perfectionism or indecisiveness
  • Difficulty in concentrating / low motivation
  • Distractions / procrastination
  • Poorly organized workspace

Picture of Finn-Rogers Hierarchy of Management graph

Many researchers agree that addressing these hurdles are important for achieving success. To be your best self as a student, you need to feel as though you are in control of how your time is spent.

This is what we call having a positive time-attitudeTime management is all about having a goal in mind.

There are two key ways of doing this: short-term planning and long-term planning. Having a consistent schedule in mind will help you to feel in control of your time as a student. But sticking to your plan is vital! It’s important to recognize that you are in utter control to set your own goals, and meet them on your own terms (Macan, Shahani, Dipboye, and Phillips, 1990; Nasrullah and Khan, 2015).

Short-term planning strategies

Short -Term Planning involves setting realistic goals that can be accomplished by the end of a single day or within a week. You can work toward these goals by creating to do lists and/or using a weekly planner.

Picture of day plannerThis is a screen cap of my own day planner as an example. Notice a colour coding system to stay organized:

Yellow Green represent work shifts between my two jobs (number in brackets stands for how many hours for each shift)

Orange represents assignment due dates

Pink represents pay-(yay) days

As I achieve each objective, I check them off. I normally keep a post-it tab divider along the edge of one of the pages. This helps me to quickly index which week I’m on in the month if I need to schedule something that has just come up (e.g. having to pick-up some groceries, or when to start upcoming assignments).

If an e-calendar or mobile app is easier to carry around, try some of these:

  • Google Calendar
  • aCalendar
  • Jorte Calendar
  • Acuity Scheduling

Handwritten to do lists are equally helpful for prioritizing your daily (or weekly) goals. As a student, yours may look like…

  • Class from 8:00 am to 11:15 am

  • Work from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm

  • Dinner from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm

  • Self-care from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm

    • This could be treating yourself to a face mask

    • Watching the Jets game for an hour (or a movie)

    • Playing a couple rounds of your favourite video game

  • Work on your assignment draft, review lecture notes, or brainstorm ideas to create an essay outline from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm

It is important to schedule time during the day to practice self-care. Having a schedule this packed daily can be both stressful and overwhelming. A friend of mine once asked: “If we were on a plane and the engine blew, whose oxygen mask would you put on first?” I immediately replied “his”. He shook his head and pointed out to me that “you can’t help someone unless you put your own mask first.”

It’s true. Your health and time are just as important as your peers, colleagues, instructors, and loved ones’. When you’re a student, you need to come first.

Long-term planning strategies

Long-Term Planning requires you to develop a disciplined routine in order to achieve your upcoming goals (e.g. doing well on a heavily weighted assignment and/or perfecting a program application).

One strategy you can draw on to structure this routine is the Pomodoro Technique.

Crafted by Francesco Cirillo during the late 80s, this approach has six steps:

Step 1: Select a task that you want to really focus on.

Step 2: Set a timer for 25-30 minutes and promise yourself that you will not be distracted or interrupted until the alarm sounds.

Step 3: Immerse yourself in the task. If you remember something else that is time sensitive before the timer rings, write it down on a post-it note and set it aside for later.

Steps 4 + 5:  When the timer rings, set down the task before you. Reward yourself for remaining disciplined during the 25-30 minutes by taking a break. This could be taking a walk to your local café to grab a latte, or watching an episode of your favourite show.

Step 6: Allow for a longer rest period between each timed task, if you feel motivated to complete 4 or more in a row. This will allow your brain to more easily process, sort, and cement incoming information (e.g. research findings to support your essay’s thesis).

A secondary benefit to this technique is that it allows students to break down large assignment requirements into digestible chunks.

Speaking of which… You may also want to consider the Spaced Practice Technique (aka the opposite of cramming).

This technique draws on the forgetting curve. Essentially, if you don’t frequently revisit the material covered in class (both before and after the lectures), you are more likely to forget the knowledge you’ve learned from it within a week’s time.

You can practice this technique by following these 5 steps:

Step 1: Plan short review sessions often (e.g. 30-45 minutes).

Step 2: Review over an extended period of time, instead of doing so all at once. For you, this pattern may look like:

Day 1: First study session

Next day: Revisit & Review

After 3 days: Revisit & Review

After 1 week: Revisit & Review

After 2 weeks: Revisit & Review

Step 3: Prioritize reviewing the oldest course material first. To study effectively, your brain needs to forget what was learned in a past session. I know, this sounds backward. But the idea is that re-studying this past material will make your brain work harder to recall it. The more your brain is challenged to remember the material, the more easily you will be able to recall it.

Step 4: Integrate new material with old material during your study sessions. By this I mean, try to forge connections between topics you’ve learned throughout the course(s).

Step 5: Create both check-lists and summaries. Before your study session ends, write a brief summary or list of what you’ve learned. You will want to re-read this summary or list at the beginning of your next study session, to refresh your memory.

While planning takes time, it actually saves time! The most successful students are good time managers!

And/or check out this LinkedIn Learning video! 



Cirillo, F. (n.d.). The Pomodoro Technique: Do More and Have Fun With Time Management. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from

Nasrullah, S., & Khan, M. S. (2015). The Impact of Time Management on Students' Academic Achievements. Journal of Literature, Language and Linguistics, 11, 60-71. Retrieved February 20, 2019.

Macan, T. H., Shahani, C., Dipboye, R. L., & Phillips, A. P. (1990). College Students' Time Management: Correlations With Academic Performance and Stress. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(4), 760-768. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from

O. (2018, August 30). How to Study Using the Spaced Practice Method. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from